Gumby’s First Big Multi-Pitch

45520025Approaching the Grand Tetons.

I pulled into the Lander city park after a long day of climbing at Wild Iris. Wyoming was rocking my world and I was exhausted. I parked my car in the gravel lot they save for campers and crawled into my sleeping bag, preparing to sleep. Instead I was promptly woken from my slumber by the buzz of my cell phone. Groggily I fished my phone from my pocket, and looked at it.

“Do you want to do open book on disappointment peak tommorow?? 5.9. Like six pitches…”

I had been searching for a partner to climb in the Grand Tetons with. We had exchanged a few messages, but I hadn’t expected to hear anything back. I began typing. “I am down. When and where do you want to meet?”

I didn’t have to wait long for a reply. “Lupine meadows trailhead at 8:30 am??” I punched the trailhead into my maps app. It showed a four hour drive. I would need to leave Lander at 4:30 in the morning.

“Sounds good to me. See you then.” I promptly rolled over and passed out.


Gearing up in the Lupine Meadows trailhead parking lot.

Ten hours later I find myself standing in the parking lot at the Lupine Meadows trailhead in Grand Teton National Park. I wait next to my car with my gear in my pack. A black Toyota Tacoma with a desert camo camper shell rolls up and parks next to me. My partner for the day climbs out and we shake hands.

“Hey… Eric?” I ask.

“Yep! Alex?” he replies.

“That’s me!”

Eric is built like a tank and wears a pair of mismatched socks. His cut-off corduroy shorts are littered with holes and the back of his truck is filled with all sorts of adventure gear. I notice his calves are absolutely massive, but it does not yet register in my mind exactly why he possesses such god-like calves. We exchange a few pleasantries, gear up, and begin the approach.


Eric leading the way into Garnet Canyon.

Three miles later I am struggling to not pass out as we scramble through the talus slide right below our route. My legs are on fire and I have to stop every minute to catch my breath, lest I feel myself losing consciousness. Not only am I out of shape from being on a boat for a month, but I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I agreed to this. I’ve pretty much only done single pitch sport routes. I quickly realize that this is an alpine style climb and I’ve never done anything remotely like it. We’ve ascended over two thousand feet in the last three miles and we still have 800 feet of technical climbing ahead of us. Eric is far up ahead nimbly moving his way through the talus slide, hardly breaking a sweat.

45520018Eric preparing to lead the first pitch.

I finally make it to the ledge just below our route and sit down, panting. Eric has already racked up, and is ready to go. I take the rope off my back and he ties in. He relays a few instructions to me on the basics of multi-pitch climbing. It seems simple enough.

I put him on belay and he begins climbing the first pitch. After a short while I hear him yell from somewhere up above. “Alex! Off belay!”

“Thanks!” I yell in reply. I put our pack on my shoulders and begin the climb. Eric belays me from above. The first pitch is graded 5.9. Easy climbing for me, but after a full day of climbing the day before and our three mile approach it’s murder. Heaving and puffing I climb and make it to our first belay station. I anchor in and begin handing the gear I’ve cleaned to Eric so he can lead the next pitch. Shaken from the exposure and exhaustion, I fumble to unclip my belay device from my harness. I accidentally drop it, and watch it tumble over the edge in slow motion.

“Oh fuck.” I say.

“What?” Eric replies.

“I just made a really gumby move. I totally just dropped my ATC.”

He laughs. “It’s ok dude. I’ll just belay you on a munter.”


Gearing up for pitch two.

He hands me his belay device and I belay him as he leads the second pitch. He climbs around a bulge. Between the bulge and the roaring wind, the only sign I have of Eric’s existence is the periodic tug on the rope as he ascends.

It’s about at this moment I start to wonder what the fuck I have gotten myself into. I’ve never done a climb like this in my life, I’ve known Eric for less than four hours, and I’ve even just dropped my belay device off a cliff. The most I’ve ever ascended in a climb is about 100 feet. In our first pitch alone we’ve done almost 200, and we have 600 to go. The sun has given away to clouds and the temperature has dropped. As I hang there shivering in the wind all I want is to do is get off the wall as fast as possible.


Eric getting some massive exposure.

We keep climbing. Two pitches left. I have to traverse right and out from under a roof before I can climb up. The exposure is massive. I try my best not to look down as I climb it. I clear the next section and arrive at the belay station. Once again I begin handing the gear to Eric.

“Is something missing?” he asks.

“The cam down there was stuck right?”

“No dude. Only the nuts.” he replies. “Which one did you leave?”

“The green one.” I reply.


“Sorry dude. I’ll pay you back for that.”

“Yeah. That would be awesome.”

I am embarrassed and quite frustrated with myself. I’ve left one of Eric’s Black Diamond Camalot’s in the wall at the last belay station. It’s a stupid move and will be costly for me.


The crux pitch with the 5.9 roof.

We’ve arrived at the crux pitch. It has a 5.9 roof move at the top. We eyeball it. “If you’re used to climbing in the Red it should be an easy move for you!” Eric says. I’m not so sure. I put him on belay and he begins climbing. He clears the roof with ease.

My turn to begin climbing. I make my way just under the roof and reach up to feel the holds. I find a few satisfactory ones, and attempt to make my way over the roof. I’m absolutely shot. There’s no way I am going to be able to do it. I down climb and begin analyzing my options. Instead of attacking the roof, I traverse around it. I flop my upper body onto the ledge, and squirm like a beached whale until I get myself on it. I lay there panting, grateful for the most solid piece of ground I’ve felt in a couple hours.

“Eric, I’d like to thank you for thoroughly kicking my ass today.” I say.

He laughs. “What do you think?”

“Well, right now all I can think is that I’m going to stick to single pitch for a while. But tonight I’m going to be thinking about the next time.”

“Yes! That’s climbing isn’t it?” he says. I put him on belay and he prepares to climb. “Just remember, anything else is just practice for this.” He begins climbing the final pitch.

45520006Finally topping out.


Amphitheater Lake.

45520002“Heyyyyyy bear!”

45520003Deer on descent.

After stopping by an ATM and paying Eric for the cam I left behind we part ways and I begin the drive to Colorado. I drive for a couple hours until I can’t keep my eyes open any longer and pull into a Wal-Mart parking lot. I crawl into the back and fall asleep. It is about 9pm.

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2 Responses to Gumby’s First Big Multi-Pitch

  1. Pingback: Lessons Learned from Four Months on the Road |

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